An employer’s 180 on asking new hires to divulge Facebook info

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Maryland Department of Corrections was facing heat from the ACLU for requiring job applicants to divulge their Facebook passwords. It seems that the DOC has listened (not to me, but to the ACLU).

You can see the ACLU’s response, as well as a discussion of Facebook “privacy rights,” after the jump.

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The ACLU’s statement

Below are sections of the ACLU’s response to the DOC’s decision to no longer require Facebook passwords from job applicants as condition of employment.

“The government should not ask people to “volunteer” access to their private, personal communications. If the term “chilling effect” describes anything, it describes this. Few job applicants, eager to please a prospective employer, are going to feel genuinely free to decline to give up their information. Under the DOC’s reasoning, it would be equally permissible (and logical) for them to ask that job applicants volunteer to have the DOC monitor all of their calls, read all of their e-mail, look at all of their letters, and search their houses on demand. The fact that no employer in country would think of “asking” that strongly indicates how improper it is, and how improper this is.”

“Equally significant, the DOC’s revised policy does not address the privacy rights of the Facebook “friends” of those who apply for positions and agree to grant the government access to their social media sites, whose privacy rights are invaded by the government without their consent.”

The privacy rights of Facebook “friends”? Really?

For reasons discussed in my previous post, most employers may be treading on dangerous ground by demanding Facebook passwords as a condition of employment.

But is gaining access to an applicant’s Facebook pages through Facebook “friends” really an issue? That is, how many employers would go to such lengths? And even if employers did go there, do Facebook users forfeit their “privacy rights” once they provide “friends” with access to their Facebook pages? Is that any different that than emailing a friend only to have that friend forward the email to someone else — an unintended recipient?

(Yes, I realize that I just posed four questions in a row without providing any answers. Here’s another one…)

What kind of privacy rights are at stake for a Facebook user who has 50 or 100 or 200 or 500 Facebook friends?

I don’t know about you, but most of my Facebook friends are high school classmates with whom I barely spoke in grades 9-12. One could argue that “privacy rights” carry little weight considering what is at stake here: sharing the same information with an employer that gets shared with “Facebook friends” whom a user sees every five or ten years at a class reunion.

It’s tough to argue that information is that private, when it gets shared anyway with people who are practically strangers.